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U.K. Relaxes Discriminatory Blood Ban, Will Allow Gay Men to Donate After Three Months of Abstinence

The United Kingdom introduced new rules on Tuesday that will allow men who have sex with men (MSMs) to donate blood after three months of celibacy, rather than the previous year-long waiting period.

Announced this July, the policy brings England, Scotland, and Wales closer to current medical understanding about the threat of HIV/AIDS to the blood supply. With current technology in place, the presence of the human immunodeficiency virus can be detected in the blood between 7 and 28 days after initial transmission.

Lack of public knowledge about the virus during the height of the AIDS epidemic led countries like the U.K. and the United States to block gay and bisexual men from donating for life. But Britain’s government announced in 2011 that it would allow MSMs to give blood for the first time, so long as they remained abstinent for a year.

LGBTQ advocates championed the new regulations, which are largely being viewed as a step toward lifting the restrictions entirely.

“It’s great to see the new blood donation rules going live,” Deborah Gold, chief executive of the National Aids Trust (NAT) told the Press Association. She added that the updated policies “[enable] gay men to donate three months from their last sexual activity, as opposed to the previous 12 months, as well as also shortening the deferral period for other groups who were previously permanently deferred.”

“This means more people can donate blood, the blood supply remains totally safe, and the rules are based on up-to-date evidence,” Gold continued.

Tuesday’s move makes the United Kingdom one of the world’s most progressive countries on the issue of gay blood donations. Belgium, Canada, Ireland, Portugal, Sweden, and the United States mandate that MSMs wait a year before donating blood, while gay and bisexual men remain banned entirely in Austria, China, Greece, Iceland, and the Philippines.

Countries like Argentina and Italy have no ban at all, judging eligibility for donation on a risk-based assessment. Allowing gay and bisexual men to donate has had no impact on the blood supply.